The duties that Mike Butts has taken on at Stock Building Supply over the past year have made it impossible for him to continue as author of our "New Dimensions" column on operations management. After 10-plus years of service, Mike will be missed. In his place this month, we're pleased to bring you another smart fellow: Chris Rader, author of the "Rader's Edge" column on

It's June and your hopes of a homebuilding revival are wilting. Your optimistic forecast that looked so good at the beginning of 2011 isn't materializing. But your operation still needs to parlay sales into profits, and all the catalysts for growth will need to come from inside your company.

What to do? Here are eight fresh ideas that could help boost spirits, as well as sales, this summer:

1. Customer Fridays Spend 20% of your 50-hour workweek with customers. Learn more about what they are doing. Yes, you wear many hats in your business, but don't ever discount the reason why you exist–for the customers. Make it a point to spend every Friday out of your office with them.

2. Manage Purchasing by Taking a Walk If you have one location, walk the yard daily and see where you are weak. If you have more than one location, visit remote sites at least once a quarter. Technology today completely automates the purchasing. But just as spending time with the customer is important, looking at your products and hunting for opportunities is important, too. It's your job.

3. Move Sales Meetings to Customer Sites Yes, have the meetings on their turf with their people. You might not feel comfortable at first, but you won't be as uncomfortable as when you watch competitors deliver products to your customers' jobs. I never understood why companies have sales meetings and don't include the customer.

4. Take Down All Negative Signs Now Remove the sign that declared, "No Cash, No Pickups, and No Orders under $500." We had these signs when we could not meet the demand of the business and it was better to service what you had than to take on new business. Today, we want the business. Get a new customer involved in walking your facility, asking for his opinion. You might just have a customer for life.

5. Give New Customers TLC Double your efforts with any new customers for at least the first 30 days. Make sure you are delivering as promised, on time, and in full. Make sure the customer is aware of your products. Make sure you develop relationships with their employees. Too often, a new customer comes on board and gets lost in the phone system or delivery operations because working with you as a supplier is new and different. If you can retain every new customer, you'll have a game-changer that can help you regain your profits.

6. Fill Empty Peg Hooks Your vendors can help here. As your sales have declined, you may not have restocked some key items necessary to complete a project. If your store looks like you are going out of business, you will have trouble getting new customers or keeping existing customers. Stock whole product lines and get your vendors involved.

7. Spruce Up Your Website I have a client that has not updated its website. It even includes locations closed last year. The owners said removing those closed facilities from the website would cost too much money. I argue that having correct, crisp data on your website is as important as keeping your physical plant looking crisp. A teenager may be able to adjust your site. Don't use money as an excuse.

8. Take the Showroom to the Job Site I just read where one car manufacturer will drive a new car to your home for you to test-drive and purchase. This company also will pick up your vehicle for service after the sale and give you a loaner. Why shouldn't you deliver products from the showroom in a fully stocked truck to jobsites? You will notice that price is not important and you will instantly take business from your competitors. A CEO reminded me that contractors do not make money by driving around picking up products.

In order to survive the remainder of 2011, you need fresh ideas. Upgrade your service, ramp up the spirit among your employees, and reconnect with the most important asset not on your balance sheet: Your customers.

Chris Rader is president of Rader Solutions, an IT company based in Lafayette, La. He also writes the "Rader's Edge" LBM management column for E-mail: [email protected] 337.205.4652